It is, as I explained to Zul, like being a cross between a celebrity and a rhinoceros.

Everyone wants to talk to you, no matter how far from you they are.  “Hey!  Obruni!  Obruni!  HI!”   The men say, “I would like to be your friend,” and if you say, “okay,” they quickly add, “I will marry you.”  The women smile and say “You are welcome,” and the old women deliver a monologue in rapid Ga and seem delighted when you cannot understand.  On rare occasions someone may ask your name.  Children either say “How are you?” and are thrilled when they recognize the word “fine” from your lips, or they say “ete sen?” and are pleasurably shocked when you answer “eye, onsue?” (Having seen very little written Twi, I am writing this phonetically; I may be completely wrong about the transcription.)  As you walk away, because you do, in fact, have a destination, the men continue to call after you: “How are you?  Can I have your number so that I can get to know you better?  I would like to be your friend!  Hey!  Sweetheart!” and the children call “Obruni!  Obruni!  Obruni bye-bye!” and refuse to stop until you have turned around to wave goodbye at least twice, and preferably have said it aloud several times.

While you are in conversation with a woman who has a baby strapped to her back or a toddler clinging to her hand, the child stares at you with something akin to wonder and touches your skin as if it might burn her.  If you smile, it takes her several minutes to understand that your smile means the same thing as that of any other adult, and then she smiles back and ducks behind her mother, re-emerging a moment later as any toddler would.  You play that game for longer than you would with an American child of any race, feeling a deep sense of relief at the familiar interaction.

People pull out chairs for you before your companion, stand up so you can sit.  “Thank you, I’m okay,” you say.  You say, “No, go ahead, please.”  You say, “It’s all right, I can do it.”  Sometimes you can and do do it, whatever it is.  Sometimes you can’t.  Sometimes you don’t.  Everyone is shocked when you offer to assist with anything,  and even more shocked when you follow up.  You congratulate yourself for violating their picture of obrunis.  Then your self-congratulation makes you feel slightly ill.

You converse in English with two Ghanaians.  When you stand up to go to the bathroom or stretch your legs, you hear them start to converse in rapid Twi behind you and hear the word “obruni” several times.  They laugh.  You flash back to being twelve years old and leaving your two best friends in the room behind you, then head to the bathroom as fast as you can.  The bathroom, incidentally, is a hard patch of ground enclosed by a low cement wall.  There’s no hole dug into the hard, packed dirt.  There is some splashback.  You recognize that there’s nothing really wrong with that hygienically, and that it’s normal for Ghanaians, and you are once again frustrated with your visceral response.

Any attempt at speaking Twi earns you either a shocked look or a laugh, and you sigh with resignation as you realize that this will probably always be the case, no matter how good you get, how much you learn. “Wy a dir,” an old woman says occasionally, kindly, after you’ve carried on a three-line conversation.  “You’ve done well.”  Your hostess teaches you a beautiful church hymn, compliments your voice, then demands that you sing the hymn, on cue, whenever her friends come around.  “What am I, your pet obruni?” you finally say, after the third or fourth time this transpires.  Everyone laughs.  You still sing it.

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